Sweet Butternut Squash and Coconut Jam

Please don't let the title dissuade you from trying this fantastically complex, deliciously sweet and heavenly autumnal spread. It is time consuming and requires a good chunk of your afternoon, but the classic scents of fall drifting through your kitchen (and eventually, the entire house) with the October sun beaming through the windows makes for a pleasant, and therefore worthwhile, jam-ing process.

I loved putting this together.

The ingredients are simple enough: peeled and cubed butternut squash, milk, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. The magic happens in the lengthy cooking, when the liquids reduce and the sugars - both the ones we add to the pot and the sugar that cooks out of the squash - caramelize and we're left with a gooey, spiced jam.

Don't expect a sticky, stringy jam like strawberry preserves. It does most of its setting after sitting in the refrigerator for a while, and is incredible combined with goat cheese on a baguette.

You will need:

1 large butternut squash, approximately 2 pounds
2 cups milk
2 cups white sugar (can reduce to 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
8-10 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean, split (2 tsp of vanilla extract is ok too).
1 cup dried unsweetened coconut

Peel and dice the butternut squash into small cubes (the smaller and more even the pieces, the faster they will cook), discarding the seeds and goo in the middle of the squash's bulb. Don't even try to dice a butternut squash without a good, sharp knife...if you can find them in the grocery store already peeled and cubed, you may want to go that route instead.

Add the squash, milk, sugars, cinnamon stick, cloves and vanilla to a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Remember how many cloves you added, because you will need to pick them all out before mashing (along with the vanilla bean if using, and the cinnamon stick). Allow the mixture to come to a simmer (not a boil!), and after about 15 minutes, the squash should be soft enough to begin mashing with a potato masher or two forks. I used an immersion blender.

Keep the heat on medium and continue simmering, stirring frequently. When the mixture is reduced by half and thick like jam, remove from the heat. Keep a close eye on it so it doesn't burn as the milk reduces. This will take between 20 and 30 minutes.

See the line of squash around the pot , above the rest of the mixture? That's how much it reduced since I initially mashed/blended the squash.

Stir in the coconut and let cool before serving.
I canned mine in 5 half-pint jars, thinking that I could preserve the jam like any other jam, but every source I consulted advised stronly against preserving pureed squash. Why? The mixture is far too viscous and thick for water bath canning (even pressure canning) to sufficiently kill all the bacteria throughout the mixture.

They all instead advised freezing. Store a jar in the refrigerator if you are planning on using some within the
next 4 days, and store the rest in the freezer.

Source: The Kitchn.

October Daring Baker's Challenge: Doughnuts

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge D-B-er's to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

 Despite my excitement when October's challenge was posted, I was unfortunately disappointed at the results. My donuts just didn't rise, and I know where to lay the blame. I know better. I'm disappointed in myself.

For whatever reason, I refused to use my mixer, and opted to make the entire dough by hand with a whisk (which is actually ok). People were making baked goods before electric hand mixers and stand mixers. But, I didn't make up time for power - meaning I should have whisked for way longer doing it manually than I would have had to with some electricity in hand. There simply wasn't enough air in my dough, which made for a paltry rise. I started my dough and left it to rise while I went to Zumba, expecting to find fluffy, towering puffs of doughnutty dough to fry and douse in sugar when I returned from my hour of intense calorie burning.


                                                                     Post-rise. Sigh.

Then my candy thermometer broke in the dutch oven and released mercury into my oil. What's the point of being able to measure 400 degrees if the damn thing gets too hot to stay intact at 375? So I switched to the cast iron skillet, which I suppose worked just as well.

They rose a little more as they cooked, but overall I was unimpressed. Regardless, I pushed on with a variety of glazes: classic, chocolate, pumpkin, and "Homer Simpson pink."

I've got to start paying better attention to the Daring challenges. Baking is a relatively new concept for me, and while I've impressed myself recently, I've also been getting ahead of myself as far as the challenges are concerned. If I hadn't rushed myself to get these donuts done, they might be as pretty as some of the other Bakers'. Lesson learned, I hope.

Original recipe here. Prettier donuts here.

Pumpkin Cream Pies

I caught wind of a possible canned pumpkin shortage through one of the blogs I regularly read, which I shared in passing with Josh at the grocery store as we passed the canned pumpkin display. I then watched as into the cart went 7...8...10 cans of canned pumpkin. "Think that's enough?" he asked.

Enter the first of at least 10 pumpkin desserts/dishes I'm sure I'll find myself making this season: pumpkin cream pies (or whoopie pies).

For the cakes, you will need:

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)
2 whole eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together brown sugar, sugar, oil and pumpkin. Add eggs one at time, mixing well after each addition, followed by the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.

Cut 3 inch squares of parchment paper, about 48. Using a pastry bag with a round tip, or a big zip top plastic bag with one corner snipped, squeeze out concentric circles of batter (spirals), starting from the middle and working outward until the circles are about 2 inches in diameter.

Transfer each square to a baking sheet. Bake for 11 minutes, or until firm, and cool on a rack.

For the filling, you will need:

1 package cream cheese, softened (8 oz.)
1 stick butter, softened
1 package powdered sugar (16 oz.)
3 drops vanilla extract
2 dashes cinnamon (1-2 tablespoons)

Beat together cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.

Match similarly-sized cakes. Frost flat side of half the pies and sandwich with its match.

Enjoy right away, or chill overnight. These keep very nicely in the fridge for at least a few days.

Chicken Fried Chicken

Before I post a new recipe, I always consult Food Blog Search beforehand out of curiosity. I want to know how many other times it's been blogged, and frankly I want to know if someone's pictures of a similar dish are better than mine (they usually are).

At this point, I've lived outside of Texas long enough to know that the majority of the country isn't familiar with migas, Chuy's (praise the lord that Chuy's made it to Nashville!), or breakfast tacos, but I was honestly surprised not to find more than one or two small mentions of chicken fried chicken. Chicken fried steak, yes...there were plenty of posts about that.

Maybe because it's redundant, you'd say. Perhaps it is, in a linguistic sense. But chicken fried chicken is not fried chicken.

Well...I mean, it is. But not the sort you can get from a bucket basking in the glow of a deli counter's heat lamps. It is always a boneless, skinless chicken breast dredged in seasoned flour and pan-fried, and it is always served with cream gravy. And it is always a fork and knife meal. Texans are sophisticated like that.

The rest of the country just has to know!

You will need:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Vegetable oil

Pound chicken with a meat tenderizer until flattened and almost doubled in size. Place flour in a large bowl and season with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste.

Mix eggs in another bowl with milk. Coat pieces of chicken in flour. Dip coated chicken into egg mixture and then dip back into flour again.

Heat on medium enough oil to fill halfway up the sides of a cast-iron skillet. When a drop of water makes the oil sizzle, it's ready for frying. Place the chicken in the skillet. When the chicken is golden brown on the bottom, gently - without splashing! - turn over with a long fork

Cook another five minutes and then take the chicken-fried chicken out of the pan and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate or cooling rack.

Repeat process for remaining cutlets. Makes four pieces of chicken-fried chicken. Serve with black pepper cream gravy made from the pan drippings.

Ode to Toast

My brother, frequent guest blogger Craig, loves toast so much that he had it tattooed on his body. My brother, medical student and anesthesiology tech, has a toaster tattoo on his leg.

I kid about his love of toast. This tattoo is not a profession of his love for bread. It's the result of a long-running inside joke between he and my dad - a joke that nobody ever could have imagined during a discussion about tattoos between my dad and a 14 year old Craig would actually come to fruition in the form of flaming toast on Craig's leg. I believe my dad was illustrating what he believed to be the stupidity of putting anything on your body permanently (also never guessing that one day his adult children would have 19 tattoos between the two of them).

Dad: "You want a tattoo? How about a toaster? Or a potato? Or a fire extinguisher?"

In a weird Craig way, it's actually kind of sweet - he did it for my dad. While the toaster wasn't his first tattoo, I'm certain that it's his most talked-about tattoo. Good thing he has to wear those scrubs every day to keep it under wraps.

Although I do have my share of ink, and though I do love food, I have no food-related tattoos. Would you ever tattoo food or cooking implements on your body? If so, what do you love enough to permanently associate yourself with?

Chicken Pot Pie

I really thought I was lacking the chicken pot pie gene. Gloppy sauce, chunks of rubbery chicken and COOKED CARROTS? Blech. Right?


Unfortunately, that description is fitting for about 90% of frozen (storebought) chicken pot pies. While revolting as far as I'm concerned, my man just happens to love them. It pains me. So I figured if chicken pot pies were going to find their way into my freezer, they may as well have arrived there by my own hand.

By this point, we know that I'm a taste-as-you-go kind of girl. I can't keep my (clean, thank you) hands out of the stuff that I'm cooking - batter, dough, sauce, whatever. I'm making sure the end result will be perfect as I go along. One slurp of this homemade sauce paired with a shred of rotisserie chicken, and I all but forgot about the mushy carrots that would soon join the party.

Oh, and the crust. Cream cheese seems surprising here, but I think it really makes a difference in flakiness. If you are a fan of any of the countless frozen chicken pot pies on the market today, or if you're like me and equate it to institutional slop, please try this.

One more thing: my man declared this the best pot pie he's ever eaten. Now that's the surest sign of a keeper.

Note: this recipe can also be converted into an 8 x 12 baking dish, which was how I prepared it since I only have two crocks.

For the filling, you will need:

3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large russett potato, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced (I found a stink bug in my carton of mushrooms. I think my heart stopped for a second).
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 purchased rotisserie chicken
2 cups frozen peas and carrots
1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)

For the sauce, you will need:

8 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream (optional)
Dash of hot sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the crust, you will need:

16 tbsp. cold unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
10 oz. cream cheese, chilled
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 large egg

To make the filling: melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and potato to the pan, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add sherry. Mix in the garlic, bell pepper and mushrooms, and cook for about 15 minutes more, until the potatoes are tender. While the vegetables are cooking, remove the skin from the chicken, pull the meat off the bones and shred or chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Once the vegetables are finished cooking, turn off the heat and mix in the chicken and the frozen peas and carrots. Stir in the red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the sauce:  melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the chicken broth and cook over medium heat until it thickens to the consistency of a cream soup. Mix in the cream (if using), the hot sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the cream sauce over the chicken and veggie mixture and stir to combine well. Spoon the mixture into 6-8 individual oven-safe dishes (such as ramekins/crocks), or scrape the entire mixture into an 8x12 glass baking dish. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

To make the crust: cut the butter into 16 pieces. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the butter and flour until crumbly. Add the cream cheese, salt and pepper. Continue pulsing just until the dough forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut out dough rounds to be about 1½ inches larger than the diameter of your pot pie dish/es. Lay the dough  on top of the dishe/s. Beat the egg with a whisk, and brush the tops of the dough  lightly with the beaten egg. If your crust splits like mine did, just pinch it together as best you can.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Annie's Eats.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me...

I'm a bit late as I actually turned 27 six days ago, but this cake was simply too phenomenal not to blog. It was by far the richest, most decadent cake I've made since I shunned the boxed mixes for cakes from scratch. And seeing as how I've made cakes for several (7) friends and family members this year, I figured I may as well go all out for myself.

There are certain flavors and combinations I am always drawn to: marshmallow and chocolate, caramel and graham crackers, and of course, peanut butter and chocolate. I considered a drizzle of caramel over this cake, but ultimately decided to leave well enough alone. It certainly didn't disappoint!

So far, 27 is sweet.

For the cake, you will need:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 2 prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.

For the frosting, you will need:

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, (commercial, not "natural" PB is best - I used Jif)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

For the glaze, you will need:

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is well combined.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

To assemble:

I cut one of my layers in half - you can skip that, or cut them both in half (though you may want to double the frosting if you cut them both into two layers).

Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread the PB frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. This should be a thin "crumb coat" to seal in the dark crumbs against the light frosting. Refrigerate the cake for thirty minutes to an hour, then frost completely with a thick layer of frosting.

To achieve the drip-glaze, start by pouring the mixture over the top center of the cake (freezing the frosted cake for at least an hour before topping with the warm glaze will help). Using an offset spatula, spread the glaze over the top of the cake and let it drip slowly over the sides.

Adapted ever so slightly from Smitten Kitchen.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Believe it or not, this was my first attempt at pasta salad. I've always loved it, but seeing as in the past 4 years I’ve both really gotten into home cooking and started (and ended) a low-carb diet, it just hadn't happened. But for my birthday this past Sunday, I wanted to ensure a vegetarian option was available for those who wouldn’t want chili or hot dogs.

You will need:

For the salad:
4 oz pasta of your choice, cooked per instructions (I used Wacky Mac Veggie Spirals)
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 cup sundried tomatoes
1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, halved
1 cup kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup red onion, sliced thinly
5 basil leaves, chiffonade
Handful parsley

For the vinaigrette:
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp canola oil
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 clove of garlic, minced
2-3 tsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp oregano
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Prepare the vinaigrette first. Combine all of the ingredients together and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Set aside to allow flavors to mingle.

Cook the pasta in well seasoned water per instructions. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cool water. Add the feta cheese, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, onion, basil, and parsley to the drained pasta. Toss the salad with the vinaigrette. Can be served immediately or after refrigeration.

Adapted from For the Love of Cooking